What does ‘good’ even mean, anyway?

Tim Tebow is a terrible NFL quarterback whose value at that position comes from his size and strength, which allows him to run short-yardage situations with some success. He completed a pathetic 46% of his passes for a league worst 124 yards per game in 2011. His incredibly popularity, wildly disproportionate to his skills on the field, is based largely on his public profession of faith and the fascination the public has with someone who appears so different from the typical American professional football player (think Ray Lewis).

Perhaps it’s a dramatic oversimplification of his place in the spotlight, but Tebow is generally regarded as a good guy, and there are many puff pieces like this that can’t stop gushing over what a good guy he is – puffiness incarnate. Yeah, he’s not that good of a guy.

The problem stems in part from people who equate bland aphorisms, vague platitudes and professions of piety as the equivalent of ‘good’. Here’s a typical Tebow moment, shilling for an organization that runs ads in the superbowl arguing against abortion, and then responding to reporter’s questions about his participation in the ad by saying “I know some people won’t agree with it, but I think they can at least respect that I stand up for what I believe.”

First off, nope. It’s not enough to believe in things, nor stand in the process of doing so. You have to believe in things that are worthwhile. Secondly, there isn’t a person out there who deserves respect simply for expressing an opinion. Arguing otherwise is kindergarten stuff and to expect a free pass (ha-ha) from people who disagree vehemently with you is silly. Here’s the ad.

Tebow’s endzone celebration has been dubbed ‘Tebowing’. It occurs mostly when Tebow drops to a knee and prays after scoring. (Note to every person who plays/watches sports – God doesn’t give a shit about the final score.) Tebowing looks like the above photo and became popular enough that some kids did it in high school in New York and got suspended for their trouble. Tebow’s response to the incident – “You have to respect the position of authority and people that God has put in authority over you, so that’s part of it. But I think it does show courage from the kids, standing out and doing that, and some boldness.”

Charles P. Pierce wrote a fantastic piece which focused on this quote – grantland – and he rightly pointed out how mind-numbingly insipid this response is, but Pierce doesn’t enter into just how self-aggrandizing this nonsense reveals Tebow to be. It’s not just that he spouts drivel, because really, if we expected pro athletes to engage the public in feats of eloquence, we’d all be waiting in line well past dinner time, but rather that Tebow singles out praise for kids who engage in behavior that exalts his persona. This isn’t a bunch of kids who want to pray at graduation against the school’s wishes, this is a case of a few teenagers who are aping a professional football player. That Tebow calls out their behavior as anything but, rather extolling it as ‘bold’ and ‘courageous’, says everything about his perception of himself as a worthy recipient of their hero worship. Tebow may be praying to God when he drops down on one knee in the endzone, but those kids are engaged with him, not the Almighty.

His seems to be a false modesty, wrapped in self-importance, protected from ridicule by our cultural fear of bad-mouthing religion. Tebow seemingly gets a pass (still funny) largely because he is extremely religious, but people aren’t good because they’re religious. If history has taught us anything, it’s that religion has been a tool for evil far more than it has for good.

There are plenty of people who hate Tebow, so it’s not as if I’m on an island with my dislike for the man, but the excessive adoration that’s thrown at him is a mystery to me. As Pierce writes in the above-mentioned piece, “Let us be quite clear — Tim Tebow adheres to a particular form of American Protestantism. He belongs to — and proselytizes for — a splinter of a splinter, no more or less than Mitt Romney once did. This particular splinter has a long record in America of fostering anti-Enlightenment thought, retrograde social policies, and, more discreetly, religious bigotry.”

It’s one thing for people to believe nonsensical things in the privacy of their own home. I understand these impulses, I am, after all, a Cubs fan. But I would never dream of trying to convert anyone. And that is what makes me a good person.

Anyway, when all is said and done, I’d rather be friends with Ray Lewis than Tim Tebow, if for no other reason than at least Lewis is good at his job.

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